Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day Forty-Eight: To listen, to see, to reach out

I see light shining past my shoulder in the dark. I twist and walk backwards a few steps, then continue forwards. The vehicle is a ways off. It comes closer. I turn around again, to be sure the driver can see my reflector on my front vest. I have added tape on my backpack, but I'm not sure if it's too low. The vehicle is slowing down and I walk toward it, neighbour-friendly-waving, and then realize it is Michael.

"I can see you just fine," he says.

I wave at one, two, three neighbours who pass me as the morning light grows. I wave at people driving to the governance centre, hospital, town workers, backhoe driver, semi driver, coop cardlock customers, commuters heading toward Regina or Yorkton on highway ten, people driving into and out of Fort Qu'Appelle, the elderly lady delivering newspapers from a baby carriage, and my brother in a town truck. I know I look goofy with my backpack, florescent vest, toque, but I wave and smile, missing a few because I'm snapping pictures. Some morning I want to count how many times I wave.

On the way home I see a colleague's husband who works at Parkland College. He often walks, actually was one of the people who put the picture of walking into my mind. I've never told him. Maybe I am now. I remember my brother telling me that last spring, when there was flooding so bad that the road by the hospital was under a raging river and the hospital was evacuated, that this walker stood at the edge of the torrent, considering wading in. I might be making this up, but I think the town workers talked him out of it.

Reminds me of all the work those town workers did, really, saving the town from certain flooding. My brother told me, quite a few times, during the heavy flooding, that the water was so close to going over the man-made banks, but the town guys and gals made, hauled, dragged, carried, stacked, and organized sand bags. Unsung heroes, I remember thinking. How many jokes do we hear about city crews? What do we know, really of their snow removal all night long or water-breaks just before home-time?

It's so important to be seen. To be recognized. To be understood.

Yesterday, Cathy, my principal, told me that one of her former students, a leader and successful woman, saw the "Treaty Settler Card" poster. "This offends me," she told Cathy. Cathy thanked this young First Nations woman for voicing her opinion, and explained that the poster is trying to communicate a message to the newcomers that with treaty comes responsibility.

I asked if the former student had read the fine print. No, she hadn't.

This reminds me of two years ago when we had an elder workshop. Our students were hearing stories, specifically around treaties, in preparations for a songwriting workshop with hip hop artist, Ekwol, Lindsay Night. There were three elders, and our eighteen students were divided into three groups throughout the library. I remember joining one circle late because I had to take care of another responsibility. I sat on the couch beside one of my students and the elder was talking about her childhood experiences. She expressed frustration with the saying, "We're all treaty people." She wondered where all those people were on treaty day, like her family, who went to get their five bucks. She turned and addressed the rest of her story directly at me. She told me of oppression, prejudice, and struggle. I listened. I averted my eyes, but when I looked back, she was still addressing me.

I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to tell her that I used to teach in the north, that I've lived on reserve, that I've been sticking up for people since I was little, that my cousins are First Nations, that my thesis is called "Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti-Racist Pedagogy", that I'm trying to be an ally. But I just nodded and listened and kept my mouth shut. "She needed me to hear her story," I remember telling a friend later. It was humbling to not defend myself, but I knew that the higher truth was that this elder needed for me to hear her. She needed to be seen, recognized, understood. What an honour she gave me as I opened my eyes and heart and shut my mouth.

Yesterday, before leaving school, I ran into Cathy. "Just to follow up on the 'Settler Treaty Card' being offensive. I've been thinking, and I guess I'm learning that it's okay to be misunderstood. We still need to be doing what we think we need to do."

Cathy's eyes grew wide. She told me about an amazing conference she'd attended last weekend, and one of her takeaway phrases was, "The best we'll ever be is a recovering-racist."

I'm on the road home just before four o'clock, so I don't wear my reflector vest. I find a new path, down the curling rink back ally, past the baseball diamonds, and across a field, following someone else's footsteps. The sun is a ball of grey behind misty, but heavy clouds. I take a picture of the sun on the giant tipi poles, like a silver decoration in the top of a Christmas tree. I walk easily on the road where a roaring river closed the road last spring. I wave at people leaving the hospital, the governance centre, getting gas at the Treaty Four store.

Help me to listen. Help me to see. Help me to reach out. Not only for my own well-being, but for all of us out here on our own treaty walks.

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